HOW WOULD YOU feel about a stock market strategy that routinely invests more after prices go up and sells when prices drop? As someone who invests for the long haul, I’m skeptical—which is why the increasing popularity of leveraged exchange-traded funds (ETFs) puzzles me.
A leveraged ETF aims to amplify the daily return of its stated benchmark. The fund’s benchmark might be a widely followed stock or bond index, a particular market sector, a single industry or one country.
MAY 18, 2020, STARTED as an ordinary Monday. I was busy with office work. An email from our human resources department hit my inbox. It said something about fraudulent unemployment benefits. I couldn’t pay attention right away, so I saved it to read later.
That evening, I found five letters from our state’s unemployment claims department in the mail. I’d never heard of such a department, but it reminded me about the email I got earlier.
I’VE BEEN MANAGING my own finances for a long time. Along the way, I did some things right that served me well and some things that didn’t—including three big blunders.
My money-management journey started when I got into a new middle school that was 12 miles from home. The daily commute involved a short bus ride to the nearest railroad station, a 20-minute trip on a suburban train and then a quick walk. To save money,
EARLY RETIREMENT isn’t a common goal among my friends. When I talk about my semi-retirement, many assume I either made a quick buck in the stock market or benefitted from some sort of financial windfall. I counter this misconception by narrating the magic formula: Financial freedom is frugality, multiplied by simplicity, compounded by patience.
My response often seems mysterious until I explain the two basic math concepts behind it. We learn them in school,
I’VE BEEN WORKING from home for nearly two months. Many friends and coworkers are tired of the lockdown. I seem to be an oddball: I feel happier and less stressed.
I’m not oblivious to the reality of today’s pandemic. As I write this, my uncle abroad is facing a hard time getting urgent medical care. Millions of others across the globe are also suffering.
Against such a gloomy backdrop, I feel almost guilty in seeing a positive side to the lockdown.
THE PAST FEW WEEKS have brought back memories of the 2008 financial crisis. Back then, stocks were at bargain prices, but I had little money to invest. Today, my financial house is much stronger—and I want to be ready to buy if stocks get dirt cheap.
I’ve already made some portfolio adjustments. But from here, my plan is to keep an eye on stock market valuations. A large percentage drop by the market averages might—by itself—create the false impression that stocks are cheap,
AS THE STOCK MARKET repeatedly hit new highs in recent years, my net worth reached levels I hadn’t expected. But instead of feeling good about it, I was getting annoyed. Most of my retirement dollars had been invested over the past decade at high stock market valuations. I could use a good bear market so that, in my few remaining years in the workforce, I bought stocks cheap.
I also worried that a prolonged downturn at the worst possible time might derail my early retirement plans.
I’VE DEVELOPED a series of what I call “Geico talks,” named after the ubiquitous insurance company commercials. They’re 15-minute talks that, I joke, are aimed at boosting financial knowledge by 15% or more.
The talks are for friends and acquaintances who work at the same company as me or at companies with similar employee benefits. These firms typically have great retirement plans and many employees own company stock. I figured the topics I’d researched for my own finances would help these folks.
YEARS AGO, I SPENT a few days in Bangkok touring the city. A highlight of my short stopover was the temple of Wat Traimit, which houses a five-and-a-half metric ton Golden Buddha, made of approximately $250 million of gold.
Cast more than 700 years ago, the statue symbolized the prosperity and cultural heritage of Sukhothai, the first Thai kingdom. Sometime in the 18th century, the statue was completely plastered over to conceal its value from Burmese invaders.
AS A KID, MY MOST revered manmade invention was not a train or a record player, but rather the Swiss Army pocketknife. When I saw it for the first time at a friend’s home, I was fascinated that it could cut paper, open bottles, file nails and more. I marveled at the engineering beauty and wished I had one of my own.
Years later, I was in Switzerland for a short business trip and had some free time for souvenir shopping.
AFTER TAKING the Series 65 exam in February, I set a goal for 2019: Help 10 friends and family members with their finances. Instead of giving specific investment advice, I wanted to educate them on money matters. I knew that they would benefit from one-on-one discussions, well-regarded books, educational videos and credible websites. But I also suspected that some might hesitate to talk to me about their finances. Nonetheless, I gave it a try.
IN OCTOBER, while I was visiting family in California, I got a text from an old friend, Tass. He had lost his job.
Tass and I were close buddies in college, but we lost touch. After completing our undergraduate degrees in computer science, I started working, while Tass pursued a business degree. We soon ended up in different parts of the globe. Many years later, we bumped into each other at an airport. I learned that Tass had moved abroad to start his own offshore business.
FOR MANY YEARS, I didn’t own bonds or anything similar, except some bank certificates of deposit. Frankly, I was clueless.
My first dilemma: Should I invest in bonds if I have a mortgage? It didn’t make sense to me to borrow from the bank and, at the same time, lend out my money at a lower interest rate to a bond issuer. I felt I should pay off my mortgage first. A few friends and even a financial advisor recommended otherwise.
IT BAFFLES ME that people often favor stock-picking over index funds—and yet they fail to measure their portfolio’s performance against a proper benchmark. I’m not talking about those who buy a few individual stocks for entertainment or education. For them, it’s a worthwhile pastime and the stakes are low.
But there are others who ignore the evidence and arguments against active management, and devote serious money to picking stocks and timing the market in hopes they’ll earn market-beating returns.
IT’S IRONIC THAT WE often shortchange retirement savings during the first half of our working lives, because that’s when we can buy future retirement dollars at a huge discount—thanks to investment compounding.
How can we hammer home this point? My proposal: We should adopt a simple mental math rule that allows us to weigh today’s spending against future retirement dollars. That brings me to my ”6 to 2 times 200” rule. The rule covers five age groups: early 20s,